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For Swee Lin and her sister, Swee May, beaded footwear is an integral part of their Chinese Peranakan heritage. Hence, they are on a mission to preserve the fading legacy.

The siblings are no strangers to the challenges of building a business from the ground up. Swee Lin, founded the PichaEats startup, which provides meals by refugees, eight years ago, and is currently running a small consulting firm called Swee & Co.

While Swee May, contributed to the pioneer team that launched the Genting SkyWorlds Theme Park.

In 2022, they joined hands to weave the threads of their Peranakan heritage into the fabric of modernity through their business called ManekNya.

Weaving threads of tradition with modernity

It was Swee Lin’s humble roots that sparked her desire to reignite the flame of Peranakan culture in the hearts of the younger generation.

“Normally, when we hear the word heritage or culture, it’s often associated with the past,” Swee Lin reflected. 

“I wondered why is that so? Is it because the designs are too old school? The way of running things is not how we like or are used to?” she asked.

And so, ManekNya was born—a brand that serves as a bridge between the past and the present, offering a contemporary spin on age-old customs. 

Transitioning from the realm of F&B to fashion and heritage was no easy feat, but Swee Lin’s years of entrepreneurial experience provided a sturdy foundation.

Image Credit: ManekNya

The essence of childhood memories 

Yet, it was the memories of their grandparents’ home that truly shaped their vision. 

Surrounded by the sights, sounds, and flavours of Peranakan culture, the sisters found inspiration in the stories of their ancestors.

“Our grandmother was the epitome of strength and grace. Her quiet demeanour belied a fierce determination to preserve our heritage,” Swee Lin told Vulcan Post.

Hence, the essence of ManekNya is a tribute to their grandmother’s legacy and Peranakan heritage. “Manek” means beads, and “Nya” refers to Nyonya or mother.

“We chose to work with beads first because we realised that the art of beading is the least well-known among us, even amongst the Peranakan folks,” she shared.

But their journey didn’t end there. Recognising the need to empower underrepresented communities, ManekNya embarked on a mission to provide vocational training to single mothers, retirees, and the unemployed in Klang Valley. 

Image Credit: ManekNya

“At the end of the training, ManekNya will act as an employer to provide them with job opportunities, on-the-job training, and [pay them] for their work,” said Swee Lin.

Currently, they have about 10 retail partner stores in Kuala Lumpur and one retail partner in Singapore.

Tiny beads with big impact

When it comes to the beads themselves, they’re not your average ones—they use special seed beads such as Miyuki seed beads and Czech glass beads which can be as tiny as 0.5mm, requiring some serious skill to handle. 

They painstakingly place each bead by hand, ensuring that every stitch is flawless, resulting in stunning and long-lasting pieces.

But what sets them apart even more is their fusion of tradition with modern flair. They’re not afraid to experiment with vibrant color palettes, abstract patterns, or even collaborate with contemporary artists, infusing their creations with a fresh and youthful vibe. 

The siblings and their team craft every piece with love and attention to detail, from beaded shoes to adorable cat-themed patches, making each one truly one-of-a-kind.

Image Credit: ManekNya

“Each pair of shoes can range from 10,000 beads to 20,000 beads, meticulously crafted to uphold the tradition of Peranakan beadwork while incorporating modern elements and designs,” she said. 

The pricing of these unique pieces may vary depending on their complexity, with prices starting at a minimum of RM1,000.

Forging connections in fashion & beyond

At ManekNya, they’re constantly bouncing ideas off their seasoned artisans and working closely with a talented team of designers and artists specialising in visual arts. 

One of their standout collaborations is none other than with the renowned fashion designer, Khoon Hooi. 

They also participated in the Malaysia Fashion Creativity Award 2023, where they showcased the beauty of Peranakan outfits adorned with Nyonya beadwork to an eager audience of fashion enthusiasts. 

Image Credit: ManekNya

These collaborations not only showcase their unique designs but also open doors to new opportunities and connections in the fashion world.

Their customer base spans from locals to expats in Malaysia and Singapore, all drawn by a shared love for Peranakan heritage. 

Initially targeting the younger generation, the siblings delighted in finding their workshops actually attracted participants of all ages, from 7 to 80 years old.

Inspired by this diverse engagement, they’re eager to deepen their impact, particularly among younger generations, as they continue to celebrate and preserve Peranakan culture.

Beading their way through obstacles 

Navigating misconceptions and breaking barriers is no small feat for the ManekNya team. 

Beading, a cherished part of Peranakan culture, often flies under the radar, especially in a place like Malaysia, where Peranakan heritage isn’t typically taught in schools. This lack of education can lead to confusion, as Swee Lin and Swee May discovered firsthand. 

Image Credit: ManekNya

To bridge this gap, they find themselves not only crafting beautiful beadwork but also serving as educators, shedding light on the rich history and diverse nuances of Peranakan culture. 

Yet, their challenges don’t end there. With backgrounds in finance and economics, design isn’t their forte, but they’re determined to learn and evolve, recognising the importance of appealing to the younger generation while staying true to tradition. 

Despite the hurdles, their perseverance paid off—they broke even in 2023, with revenue fueled by retail sales, workshops, and community training initiatives. 

Looking ahead, they aim to expand by tripling their retail partner stores and delving into the art industry with two upcoming exhibitions in Malaysia and Singapore.

However, their ultimate goal is to collaborate with a diverse range of creatives, from artists to fashion designers, and even shoemakers, to craft modern masterpieces that marry the timeless art of beading with contemporary design.

And who knows? Perhaps one day, they’ll even have their own line of Peranakan shoes, where every stitch tells a story—from traditional to modern, weaving together the past and present in every step.

  • You can learn more about their business here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: ManekNya

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